Holidays are over, but the need doesn’t end

At my house, the Christmas stockings still hang from the mantel, even though they are empty now and the treats they once held have moved into the mainstream of our daily lives.

On Monday, here in the Northeast Times newsroom, I took down the 10 thank you notes written by readers who had received gift cards from our annual holiday campaign for the needy. Each of the thank you cards was unexpected, and yet so gratifying to receive. We had taped them to a white board in the office for all to read.

I read them over one more time and I wanted to share their sentiments with you, the readers who contributed to the Eleanor Smylie Fund, because you made these gifts possible.

Here’s an excerpt from my favorite one: “What a wonderful surprise to have opened the letter and found a gift card! I did use it for Christmas dinner and a small gift. … Since my letter I have acquired a job. I start on 1/7/13. … Thank you for people who still are kind and generous to give to a needy mom. It will be paid forward.”

Another wrote: “I will never forget what you did for me.”

And yet a third one read: “This is the first time in my life I asked for help, and you came and helped us.”

The final accounting of the Northeast Times’ Eleanor Smylie Fund for 2012 shows we took in $9,773 in donations, and sent out $50 gift cards to 212 people or families and four organizations that aid the needy.

I think this is an admirable effort, but I also know that this level of deep need doesn’t stop on the day after Christmas. I can still hear the desperate voices of those who called asking to be included in the fund. They told me of the trouble they were having landing a job, or that their car had broken down and they had no means of getting it fixed. For others, it was a family member’s chronic illness that had drained every penny of their savings and sapped their energy, too.

What’s a newspaper to do?

One of our roles is to foster a sense of community, and that we do well by running this campaign. We connect our neighbors in need with those in a position to help.

Another role is to provide vital information. So, to continue this effort beyond the holiday, I’d like to invite those organizations who are providing safety net services aross the Northeast to send us updated information so we can print a monthly directory of where to find help. In a brief paragraph, tell us the name of your group, what service you provide, who is eligible and the best way to reach you.

But even this doesn’t seem to be enough.

When the newspaper’s former owner, Eleanor Smylie, started the community fund 58 years ago, I’m sure she never imagined how many people would be hurt by the deep recession of 2008, or how long it would take the nation to recover.

So, I’d like to ask you, our readers, for your suggestions of what more the newspaper can do. How can we, as a visitor to 110,000 households every week, extend the holiday campaign to aid those in need 52 weeks a year?

And what can you do to assist even one neighbor who could use a helping hand? Could you do it tomorrow? Think on these things and let me know.

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Two weeks ago, I asked readers whether they read the Crime Log, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. So, we will continue to make room for that listing every other week of all the crimes reported in the Northeast.

I also received readers’ suggestions for new columns, including one titled “Ask the Teacher.” As soon as space permits, I will be looking to add this new column to the paper. ••

Editor Lillian Swanson can be reached at 215–354–3030 or lswanson@bsmphilly.com